The humble lentil is having a moment. This unassuming ingredient lives right next to dried beans at the supermarket and looks a lot like split peas. But lentils have a lot to offer! Healthy and versatile, rich in protein and fiber, this economical ingredient lends meaty texture to soups, salads and tacos. What are lentils and why do love them? We’ll tell ya!
1. They’re a secret superfood
Ounce for ounce, lentils have as much protein as steak (with less than 10 percent of the fat!). A half-cup of these pulses (pulses are a type of legume, like dried peas or chickpeas) provides you with nine grams of protein and eight grams of healthy fiber–that’s almost a third of the daily recommended amount! And, as noted in the San Francisco Chronicle, a diet high in lentils and other pulses can reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
2. This simple ingredient is easy on your wallet
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers lentils both a vegetable and a source of protein, this inexpensive ingredient can do double duty in your kitchen. On average, lentils cost about $1 for a one-pound bag, while a single pound of lean ground beef costs about $6 (with other cuts costing much more). Think about those savings!
3. Lentils let leftovers last
Stretch leftover Thanksgiving turkey or holiday ham by incorporating lentils. By adding cooked lentils to your soup or casserole, you’ll make these tasty ingredients go further. It’s a great way to make the holidays last a little longer while saving a few pennies.
This gives you flexibility in planning your meals: use lentils to stretch meat dishes further (like in this healthy, slow cooker chicken sausage stew) or use them as a protein in your favorite Meatless Monday dinners.
4. They’re used across the globe
Billions of people around the world rely on lentils for protein every single day. Some countries’ signature cuisines include lentils, like India’s dal, the simmered lentil dish. Lentils, along with beans and rice, are also a major food source throughout the Americas, Caribbean and Mediterranean. People from many cultures understand how tasty and nutritious the little legumes can be.
5. Lentils keep you full
Lentils are low on the glycemic index (GI), meaning they keep your blood sugar humming along evenly without spikes and crashes. While foods low on the glycemic index are especially helpful for people with diabetes, everyone can benefit. In fact, low-GI foods can help prevent you from developing diabetes.
6. They’re the perfect addition to smoothies
Here’s a surprising way to up the protein content of your smoothie without the weird, silty (and pricey) powder: blend 1/2 cup cooked lentils into your favorite recipe. The lentils add rich texture, and you never even know they’re there! They help you stay fuller longer, too.
7. They’re eco-friendly!
Lentils use few resources to grow and, calorie for calorie, produce only 2.5 percent of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as beef, and 10 percent of the carbon dioxide of tofu. That makes lentils one of the greenest crops to grow—especially when you factor in their high protein content.
All this talk have you eager to give lentils a try? Give one of our favorite lentil soup recipes a whirl.